There are too many real estate development companies,” I thought while commuting to this interview. Yet, to my surprise, I was mistaken. Not in the literal sense, as the Georgian real estate market is booming, but in a more subtle, symbolic way. “We are an investment company specializing in one direction – real estate,” stated the Chairman of York Holding Group, Amr Alabwaz. I thought our discussion was only tangential to the typical, clichéd conversations one is used to having with real estate developers. Instead, Amr and I talked about digitalizing the real estate market and how technology allows investors (this is how Mr Alabwaz refers to his clients) to get higher yields.

While researching York Holding Group, I saw a striking balance between concrete and greenery. It is no accident, as it turns out, but a deliberate attempt at reconstructing the urban planning mistakes made in recent years in Tbilisi. “Our goal is to develop green and healthy projects. It is not just for branding, either. For example, we have active construction on Lisi Lake and in Tabakhmela. We build houses and construct facilities for people to enjoy themselves, including stadiums, kindergartens, restaurants, and commercial areas,” says Amr Alabwaz excitedly. Other projects scattered around Tbilisi, Batumi, Mtskheta, and Bazaleti embody this philosophy.

It has been five years since York Towers and York Holding Group entered the Georgian real estate market. What could you say about this period? How rapidly and in what areas did York Holding Group develop as a company?

We have achieved most of our growth in Georgia. The market is still young and offers potential to those who want to develop with it. The country is ready to accommodate many foreign investors. There are some difficulties they might face, but this is normal. On the other side, there are many advantages. One can register a company in several minutes. There is no difference between locals and foreigners, as both are free to conduct economic activities. You can import, you can export. You can buy, you can sell. You do not need to be a resident of Georgia to have a bank account and to purchase a property. Georgia is one of the most accessible destinations to get to, visa-wise. The labor force is qualified and cheap. All this is unprecedented. So, Georgia has a lot of exciting advantages.

One could argue that York Holding Group’s Georgian projects are not stereotypical residential properties. Could you share some insights about your past and present projects?

Let me begin with the Bazaleti Resort – one of our upcoming resorts, which spans two million square meters in Bazaleti. We have been negotiating with the Georgian government for a long time; they believe our vision is serious. We see that the Prime Minister and other ministers comprehend the value of the project, the construction of which will begin shortly. Another project I would like to highlight is York Town, located on six hectares of land in Tabakhmela. We are building hundreds of apartments, villas, and a hotel with a pleasant commercial area and a vast green zone. The first phase is complete; we have moved on to the second now. The third project I would like to mention is Lisi View, which we constructed from scratch. We finished the first phase of this project a long time ago, during which we built several small-sized apartment blocks.

Then, of course, comes our crown jewel – Bianca Batumi, which is one of the York Holding Group’s best projects. Interestingly, Bianca Batumi, worth about $29 million, earned the status of the biggest real estate deal in Georgia in 2022. It will remain a highlight in the history of Georgian real estate for a long time. We are working on yet another big deal, but I will keep the details a secret for the moment.

Alongside residential projects in the two biggest cities of Georgia – Tbilisi and Batumi, York Holding Group has projects in Bazaleti and Mtskheta. Why did you choose to expand your projects to these towns?

Ever since we began operating in Tbilisi, we realized there were planning mistakes made from 2003 until 2015. Many things had not been considered, especially parking spaces. As a result, you see buildings with a hundred apartments with only ten parking spots or even none. Tbilisi is very crowded, and the city center is overloaded. Tabakhmela – one of the most beautiful locations in the world – is located ten to fifteen minutes from the city center. Mtskheta is twenty-five minutes away. It is nothing. When I lived in the United States, I needed twenty minutes to go to the supermarket. We need to take people out of loaded and crowded areas and take them close to fantastic green areas.

Our goal is to develop green and healthy projects. It is not just for branding, either. For example, we have active construction on Lisi Lake and in Tabakhmela. We build houses and construct facilities for people to enjoy themselves, including stadiums, kindergartens, restaurants, and commercial areas. We decided to follow this direction from the beginning and will continue to do so.

As I know, 2022 was a year to remember for York Holding Group. This year, you also went through an organizational transformation. What were the reasons behind it? Was the process successful? What were the outcomes?

It is the first year of our transformation that we announced in September. 2022 was a fantastic year for us, we decided it was time to digitalize the real estate business in Georgia. So we launched one of the world’s largest financial real estate projects. Our plan is very ambitious and global, and we are happy that it was born in Georgia.

This year, we opened a new branch in Dubai. We also started to sell Georgian real estate to CIS countries. Yet, our growth does not stop here, as this year, we decided to expand internationally as well. I am pleased to share with Forbes Georgia that York Holding Group will begin development outside Georgia in the Caribbean. We will provide our investors with a new product in a novel environment. There is an additional perk as well – a Caribbean passport. The Caribbean belongs to the Commonwealth, so the King of Britain rules it. The holder of a Caribbean passport can enter 157 countries without a visa. We are proud to be the first company in Georgia to give this opportunity to our clients.

Could you elaborate on the organizational transformation? What motivated you to undertake it?

Before the transformation, we resembled most Georgian organizations. Our KPIs, goals, grading system, culture, and environment were all managed blindly. Everything was up to the management. With the transformation, our organization became global. We have clearly defined managerial lines, and the whole company believes in one vision. A vibrant, stable, and innovative workplace fosters an atmosphere where people are valued, engaged, and appreciated. We believe that our employees’ strengths maintain the organization’s stability. With our mission to improve quality of life, we create sustainable investment opportunities for stakeholders by building an international management practice serving global citizens.

To clarify: York Holding Group is not a typical real estate development company but an investment company?

Exactly! Our target audience is not the people looking to buy property but investors. We are an investment company specializing in one direction – real estate. By the way, the platform we are working on will digitalize the real estate industry. Thus, we will take our investors on a unique journey. They will invest in properties in Georgia, New York, Munich, and Dubai via our platform. Wherever we find a great opportunity, we will be there.

Many people are interested in investing in real estate but are afraid to take risks. This is where we come into the picture, as we study portfolios very closely and collaborate with the best audit companies. First, our technical experts assess every single property. The audit companies then reaffirm the results, based on which we negotiate the price, as we want to bring the best value to our investors. The contract, of course, is crucial, too, as it guarantees stability of return to our clients. There are many processes a property goes through; it is not just buying and selling.

What motivated you to create this digital platform?

Back in 2020, I became interested in digital banking and fintech. But then, I realized that I would have been better off digitalizing real estate. We have been developing this concept ever since. We will share it with the public in the second quarter of 2023.

Let’s conclude our conversation with a question about the Georgian real estate market, shall we? You have been here for many years, so it must be worthwhile, could you highlight aspects that you find interesting about the local market? What makes the Georgian real estate market unique?

Let me reply with a short answer – something that I always tell my clients. During the early days, I gathered a few clients to tell them how good the Georgian real estate market was, and this analogy came to me. The Georgian real estate market is like a train, I told them. This train will depart soon, and once it does, it will run very fast for the next ten years. You should join me. It will be a pleasant journey. It is now or never. And it is precisely what happened. Whenever a client poses me the question you just asked, I point them to this view (Amr points at the city skyline from high up in the King David Business Center). This country is still developing, the local real estate market is hungry, and opportunities are there. It is your time to seize it!

Photos Credit to Khatuna Khutsishvili / Forbes Georgia

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